Layke Anderson, director of Dylan’s Room, won Best Drama at ASFF 2012. His new short film Happy Thoughts (2014) is soon to be released, which draws upon J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan characters and takes audiences on a journey of exploration through themes such as isolation, jealousy, sexual awakening and cruelty. We speak to Anderson about his films.
A: Your film Dylan’s Room was in the official selection at ASFF 2012. What was it like to have your film screened at the film festival?
LA: What I’ve found great about the festival circuit is the opportunity it gives you to look at your work again with an audience. I find that both the writing and editing ages are quite isolating, so once you’ve detached a little and put your work out there, it can be insightful to approach the work again as an audience member – that’s the most rewarding experience, and to be able to talk to other filmmakers about their journey is inspiring.
A: What did winning the Best Drama award mean to you?
LA: Immediately it was overwhelming, especially given the competition at ASFF. Dylan’s Room was up against so many great films that I saw, and there had been odd moments of pressure given that it was my first film. The awards have taken us (crew and cast) by surprise each time, but they’ve brought attention to the film and what we managed to achieve with so little, which I hope will inspire other filmmakers with limited resources if they have a story to tell.
A: How do you hope audiences will respond to this film?
LA: I personally enjoy films filled with symbolism and questions, films that make me do a little bit of work. Some people don’t go for it, but I like to put those things in, if only for myself. I always hoped that the film would resonate tenderness, because at its heart it’s a love story.
I think people connect to this character, whether they’ve experienced loss or not. What’s amazing for me is that both older and younger audiences have so far responded very well. Both Joanna Scanlan and Ricky Nixon are very strong individually, both very open and have a warm presence, but together it’s very special dynamic that I hope audiences want to be a part of.
A: What was your inspiration behind the story?
LA: The narrative in many ways grew from an aesthetic I already had in mind. At a young age I recall witnessing the behaviour of those around me following a death, those personal possessions left behind, fingerprints, that lingering presence when the dust settles, when someone has gone, but not quite. There was space there for these characters, to have them meet here one last time between realms.
A: What do you think of the current situation for filmmakers working today?
LA: I see far more opportunities for filmmakers starting out than even five years ago with the leaps in technology. It’s a great time for filmmakers. But as usual, money – whether it’s financing or generating income from their work will always be a challenge. You can’t be afraid of that though. There are far more opportunities to showcase one’s work with more festivals and online platforms.
A: How does creating a short film help you to develop as a director?
LA: People have said this before, but it’s a great way to experiment, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Short films are an art form in their own right and the rules don’t always apply. You can be bold, you can follow a formula, but then turn it inside out. There’s no one breathing down your neck. You have the opportunity to explore, but on a smaller scale and take more risks.
A: Do you have any future projects you’re currently working on?
LA: I’m completing post-production on Happy Thoughts, which is drawn from the Peter Pan characters. I re-read J. M. Barrie’s book recently and found it contains some dark themes behind the magic I recalled from childhood as well as the Disney adaptation, and I wanted to explore some of those themes, particularly those of isolation, jealousy, sexual awakening and cruelty. It’s very raw and I took a more experimental approach than I did with my first short, but like Dylan’s Room, it’s a trip.
ASFF 2014 is open for entries. For more information and to submit visit www.asff.co.uk. Entries close 31 May.